Dragon Gate is my personal pick for the best wrestling company all year, and it’s not close to me. They’ve rebounded from the second half of 2021 which was a down period beautifully, and as the retirements pile up they’ve shown one thing. They have the young talent and they will invest in them no matter what. As we are weeks away from Kobe World, this symbolizes the close of the first half of the year in Dragon Gate. I wanted to take a look back on the first half of the year, and just give some of you my thoughts and little awards. So I will be only doing the winners and runner-ups. All photos are credited to Dragon Gate either from DragonGate_Pro on Instagram and Twitter along with the Dragon Gate Network Twitter account. Some are also posted by the wrestlers themselves, but are all watermarked as belonging to the company.
Wrestler of the Mid-Year: Yuki Yoshioka
It’s amazing to see where Yuki Yoshioka was last year as Dia Inferno, and the complete turn around he’s taken since unmasking. Yuki Yoshioka to start the year captured the Open The Twin Gate Championships with Dragon Dia. They went on a big undefeated run, but since Dia was double champion it seemed like Yoshioka was the afterthought until one night. At Champion Gate in Osaka, Yoshioka got a pinfall win over Eita and after that he started to close that gap between him and Dia. He looked like a star, but the booking had coincided with that yet, until that moment. When he and Dia lost the Twin Gate belts to Shun Skywalker and Diamanté, it was Dia who got pinned not Yoshioka.
Then he marched into King of Gate 2022, and won the whole thing. This is big, because he beat an impressive list of guys in that tournament. YAMATO, U-T, Diamanté, Shun Skywalker, and Kota Minoura. Here’s an even crazier stat, at the time of this writing he has yet to be lose directly since returning as himself. Anytime he has lost, he hasn’t taken the pinfall. Not only has his booking been great, but his in ring work has been excellent. He struggled here and there earlier on, but he’s found a groove. After that big run in King of Gate he firmly secured the Wrestler of the Mid-Year.
Runner-Up: Shun Skywalker
Runner-up was a tough one to pick, because KAI and Dragon Dia were strongly considered. However, I don’t think either one has been as much of a main character and gem as Shun Skywalker. He has basically set the tone for everything within Dragon Gate dating back to the mask vs mask tag match in December. Shun turning heel was a shock, but he has excelled in his role. He has been one of the most compelling antagonists in wrestling. He’s a psycho essentially, his storyline with Jason Lee showcased that and made Jason Lee a bigger star by the end of it. His King of Gate run where he knocked out Eita and KZY, two of the most beloved Dragon Gate wrestlers today, only made him even more of a villain. As a Twin Gate Champion I expect him to continue this roll heading into the second half of the year.
Match of the Mid-Year: KAI vs Susumu Yokosuka(Dead or Alive 2022)
KAI has exceeded my expectations for him as Open The Dream Gate Champion. However, he needed that one great match to make his reign a slam dunk. Who does Dragon Gate call on when they need a classic? Of course, you call on Susumu Yokosuka. Susumu challenged KAI after the retirement of long time partner K-Ness who urged him that fans didn’t want to see him be KZY’s second. They want to see him in main events, and as Open The Dream Gate Champion. KAI agreed only if Susumu changed his name back to Susumu Mochizuki, and leave Natural Vibes should he lose. This is important for later, but Susumu agreed. Entering to his and K-Ness’ entrance theme, team gear, and the necklace K-Ness gifted him. He was fighting with the spirit of K-Ness, and that was apparent.
It was a good wrestling match, but got to a great status right at the moment KAI broke that necklace off of Susumu. Susumu became a man possessed, and you truly believed Susumu had a chance to win. The nearfalls got closer, and closer it seemed like it was his night. However, KAI stuck that dagger in his heart and emerged victorious. The stipulation is more than just a name change, and leaving a unit for Susumu. KAI wanted to take his friends away from him and kill K-NesSuka once and for all. Then the show closed with a heartbreaking segment between Natural Vibes. As Genki Horiguchi also told KZY he was leaving the group to aid Susumu. Noting they first joined Natural Vibes to help KZY get to the next level. He’s won King of Gate, he’s main event Kobe World for the Dream Gate, and he’s built a new young Natural Vibes on his own. They don’t need to hold his hand any longer. Everyone’s cried, and I surely did. You can put this match up against any other match that happened this year, and it’ll be hard to find many matches better.
Runner-Up: GOLD CLASS vs Natural Vibes (Champion Gate in Osaka)
I do have a partial bias to the KZY vs Kota Minoura King of Gate match. Yet, after sitting down and trying to piece these awards together. How am I supposed to put that over the best trios match all year? This was GOLD CLASS’ first big match together, and luckily for them they had the best babyfaces possible to help get them over that hump. These three Vibes members specifically. Jacky, U-T, and KZY have this special talent to raise a match to another level with how good at being underdogs they are. Vibes we’re making their first defense of the Open the Triangle Gate Championships, and these belts are what make Dragon Gate so special. Dragon Gate uses the Lucha rules in tag settings, and it has allowed them to produce some of the best trios matches of all time.
I truly believe this was the catalyst to eventually turn GOLD CLASS heel, because of how well they performed here. Not only that the ending stretch was magic, everyone came close to getting a fall. U-T even revealed he had received the Hikari No Wa from K-Ness. Ultimately GOLD CLASS came away with the win. Fantastic stuff here, for the work rate nerds out there this is the match for you.
Unit of the Mid-Year: Natural Vibes
This award is the one with the largest gap between the winner and runner-up. Natural Vibes’ only real competition when it comes to units in pro wrestling right now is STRONGHEARTS and Los Ingobernables De Japon. It’s hard to find a unit as special as they are, but I will say out of those three units they’re easily the best underdogs. If you list all the good matches from Dragon Gate shows including house shows. There’s a good chance most of your list is just Natural Vibes. With KZY leading the charge alongside U-T, Big Boss Shimizu, Jacky ‘Funky’ Kamei, Strong Machine J, and Jason Lee this unit is entering its’ best incarnation yet. King of Gate, and the absence of the Triangle Gate belts has really put a hold on unit warfare. However, the two best Triangle Gate matches this year have included Natural Vibes. That shows you all need to know about how effortlessly good they’re together.
Z-Brats has had a very under the radar year. They have the Dream Gate Champion, Triangle Gate Champion, and are often a highlight. However, they’ve taken a bit of a step back to me. They’ve truly let others shine while still being big parts of the shows. I think they’re really going to hit a stride post Kobe World where KAI may not be Dream Gate Champion, and the great brain may finally be Brave Gate Champion. They might be a unit who could make a big splash in the second year. GOLD CLASS is doing fine, but Kaito Ishida is out right now they should probably look to add another member. M3K is rocking and rolling, but they’re still a new unit so it’ll take time for them to make a bigger impact. While HIGH-END has just been plain sad since they formed. They just don’t gel despite the talent. I think an addition of Ishin Iihashi would freshen that group up, and do them wonders.
Rookie of the Mid-Year: Minorita
I can already hear people angrily typing away just by reading the winner. However, just give me a moment to explain. So Minorita is the first rookie from the class of 2021 to join a unit, and that’s because overall he’s the best. Second to third best worker of the bunch, but he has this little man syndrome. Where he acts like he’s the biggest man in the room, and his charisma shoots off the charts. Since joining GOLD CLASS he has been able to become the perfect little gremlin. Sometimes his schtick can be overdone, but when it isn’t it’s great. Not only that he had a good showing in King of Gate to remind people that he was also a good wrestler. While the runner-up may blow him out of the water in ring wise, in Dragon Gate you need it all. Minorita is the one rookie that shines in all categories.
Runner-Up: Takuma Fujiwara
Takuma wrestling wise probably has been the best rookie in wrestling this year. Although there’s a lot of good prospects out there right now. He’s currently in Mexico where he’s tearing it up on excursion especially as a rudo. Considering the success Yuki and Shun have saw since coming back from Mexico, you have to imagine he’s in line for that same success. Please go on Dragon Gate Network’s YouTube channel and watch the first match from day one of Champion Gate in Osaka. He faces Dragon Dia for the Brave Gate, and they just tear it up. The reason he’s not ahead of Minorita is the fact he doesn’t have a personality quite yet. He’s finding it a little in Mexico and that’s his one notable improvement. He didn’t get a chance to showcase that in Dragon Gate however, but I’m certain he will in the future.
Tag Team of the Mid-Year: D’Courage
Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka are easily the tag team of the mid-year. The whole entirety of the first half of the year was built around them. I think they could’ve had a tag team of the year run if the Twin Gate division was focused on a bit more. That’s my one nitpick about Dragon Gate this year is the Twin Gate matches don’t often come organically sometimes, and I feel as if they can do better. They have the talent to do so, but just haven’t. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt, because they did a lot of shifting up and down the card this year. D’Courage is an example of that, and they owned the first half of this year.
Runner-Up: KZY and U-T
Natural Vibes’ top tag team, and the current Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling Souryu-Ou Champion team are my runner-ups. The easy route would have been just to say Shun and Diamanté, but honestly I don’t think they’re having a better year than KZY and U-T. As well as I think there’s more of a journey to be a team for KZY and U-T, while Shun and Diamanté just decided they didn’t hate each other anymore and teamed up. KZY and U-T have been in two other units prior to U-T joining Natural Vibes. It has always seemed like U-T looks up to KZY, and KZY is a big believer in him. They’ve had some really fun tag matches together I highly recommend the bout with YAMATO and Dragon Kid. It’s one of the best HIGH-END outings. I wouldn’t count KZY and U-T continuing this roll into becoming double Twin Gate and Souryu-Ou champions.
One to Watch In The Second Half: Ben-K
Ben-K is the most confusing case of a Dragon Gate wrestler I can find. He had this great push as one of the first new generation stars by dethroning PAC for the Dream Gate, but has kinda staggered since then. He’s had plenty of great showings, but mostly has just been the quiet guy in the background. However, Ben-K respecters I’m here to give you hope that the tide will change for him soon. At Dragon Gate’s Korakuen event recently, Ben-K for the first time since joining HIGH-END did something intriguing. He grabbed the mic after a win declaring it a victory for himself, and asked YAMATO to let him replace Dragon Kid or Kagetora on the upcoming Triangke Gate challenger team. YAMATO told him he understands his frustrations, but he should leave this to the veterans.
Does YAMATO really understand Ben-Al’s frustrations? I don’t think so, and truly believe with the deep talent pool Dragon Gate has right now we could see a betrayal. Ben-K has a good chance of searching for more than he’s getting in HIGH-END, and the aspect of reuniting Ben-Kondo makes my mouth water.
Honorable Mention: Mochizuki Jr
The son of Masaaki Mochizuki hasn’t been wrestling long at all. Debuting last month as a matter of fact, but he is undefeated since then. Becoming the centerpiece of M3K, and hard to ignore the fact he is very very good at wrestling this early into his career. Seeing Dragon Gate’s willingness to push the rookies hard I can see Mochizuki Jr capturing his first belt in the second half of this year. He’s going to be another you should watch closely.